Flowering plants

Fineshade Wood has considerable botanical interest, as you would expect from an area of so many different habitats.  Ancient Woodland, regenerating plantation woodland, scrubland, conifer planatations, roadside verges, wet woodland  - all have their own characteristic flora.


Six species (at least!) of orchids are found here. There is also the nationally scarce Yellow Star of Bethlehem and a range other interesting and "worthy" plants such as Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Small Teasel, Lesser Centaury etc. 

During a Wildflower Walk led by Brian Laney in August 2015, 88 species were recorded. (Download an Excel file) and by 2022 the entire Fineshade list stands at well over 400 species.

Yellow Star of Bethlehem

One of 23 spikes of Yellow Star of Bethlehem found in a small area of Fineshade Wood in March 2022

Flowers of the week 


Below are some of the most eye-catching or significant flowers recorded over a period of 20 weeks during 2015.


Wood Anemone

Wednesday 22 April


An ancient woodland indicator, this flower is very obvious at the moment. A good place to see it is beside the Kingscliffe bridleway where it runs alongside the old railway line. It's also all alongside the main path that leads out of the end of the carpark. At the first juction turn left and you'll see the flower growing between the ancient ash coppice stools.

Early Purple Orchid

Monday 27 April


Fairly common in deciduous wood especially ancient woodland. Generally they are just emerging but this magnificent specimen was quite a surprise. This is the earliest British orchid to flower and generally has spotted leaves (though some specimens do not.)

This one was blooming like this in the area known as Peter's Nook and was exactly in the path of one of Forest Holidays' proposed new vehicle tracks.



Tuesday 5 May


No question about which flower to highlight this week... the Cowslips in the new orchard and in the haymeadow opposite the houses are absolutely prolific this year. Do try to come and have a look if you can!


When the Fineshade community created the extension to the orchard we sowed it with a wildflower mix. As a result in previous years there have been great displays, firstly of Forget-me-nots and then of Ox-eye Daisies. But there were few Cowslips so, seeing the regular display in the haymeadow and elsewhere we carefully gathered, stored and spread some seed in the new orchard. The result, as you can see, is very pleasing indeed.


Fineshade Meadow and Orchard was designated as a Local Wildlife Site by the Wildlife Trust BCN in 2013

Read additional information on Northants Local Wildlife Sites here.



Thursday 14 May


The deep blue flower spikes can be seen throughout the wood at the moment - a particularly good place to see them is at the start of the bridleway that leads from Top Lodge towards King's Cliffe. Go through the gate and look along the right-hand verge. The spikes are straight, proud and very obvious this year.


The latin name is Ajuga reptans and cultivated forms, known as Ajuga, are sometimes grown in gardens as ground-cover plants.  It is a member of the mint family and has been used in herbal medicine for a variety of remedies, including treatment for the bad effects of excessive drinking!

Twayblade in Far Markhams Wood


Thursday 21 May


This week’s flower is not quite as obvious as last week’s Cowslips which were really hard to miss.
Twayblade (Neottia ovata) is a type of orchid with yellowy-green flowers and it’s often the two broad leaves rather than the flowers that catch the attention on the woodland floor. It is one of the UK's most widespread, but perhaps most overlooked orchids and is common in woodlands, scrub and grasslands of calcareous soils.


Last year a part of Far Markham Wood (north of the caravan site) was thinned - part of the excellent woodland management carried out by ex FC Forester, Fraser Bradbury. As a result more light is getting to the forest floor and, suddenly, we are finding unprecedented numbers of Twayblade and also Butterfly Orchids - these are not yet in bloom but will be a future flower of the week no doubt! 

Twayblade in Far Markhams Wood


Tuesday 26 May


Known to gardeners as Aquilegia, Colombine is a tall plant that likes limestone soils. In its wild form it is usually a deep purple or blue. Although Aquilegia is now a very common as a garden escape, Columbine is nationally rare as a wild plant. In Northamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough it is considered to be a native wild plant in the suite of woodlands around Fineshade.


There are many elegant flowers showing well on the left hand side as you go down the marked track towards the tree house. This is another area of the wood that was thinned last year and, just like last week's Twayblade, it seems to be doing particularly well now that there is more light reaching the forest floor. 


Columbine may look very attractive but all parts of the plant are poisonous - traditionally the seeds were crushed and the resulting powder used to kill lice.



Twayblade in Far Markhams Wood

Yellow Archangel

Thursday 4 June


This is another of Fineshade's Ancient Woodland indicator species. A member of the dead-nettle/mint family it has leaves that look rather like a stinging nettle. It is generally to be found on the edges of woodlands and tends to spring up after coppicing. In Fineshade it also occurs in shady areas beside the vehicle tracks - this one is flowering further down the track that runs past the tree house.


The name, Yellow Archangel, is said to have arisen because each individual yellow floret looks a bit like an angel. Other common names include the artillery plant and the aluminium plant, which are even more difficult to explain!

Twayblade in Far Markhams Wood

Greater Butterfly Orchid 

Tuesday 9 June


Tall and elegant with creamy-white flowers, the Greater Butterfly Orchid is one of Fineshade's most treasured flowers.  It is found in old hay-meadows and unimproved grassland but also, less commonly, in Ancient Woodland. And it is in the Ancient Woodland areas of Fineshade where this beautiful flower can be seen - the dappled light often making it deceptively hard to see.


George Batchelor found the leaves of 12 plants when he was here in mid May (read his blog here) and those plants are now in bloom. Three together can be seen from the main path leading from the car park - follow the "Mill Wood" trail turning left at the first T junction. Then look to your left about 100m along, just before a path leads to the back of the caravan site. Isn't nature wonderful!


Update:  By the end of June an amazing 52 flowering spikes had been located in the same woodland area.  This seems a very good number - but just how good? Would it mean that Fineshade merits notification as a SSSI?  Pictures and discussion here.

Twayblade in Far Markhams Wood

Knapweed Broomrape 

Tuesday 16 June


These strange plants can be seen growing this year along the verge just west of the Fineshade A43 junction.  Broomrapes have no chlorophyll (no green parts) and are totally dependent on other plants. Their tiny seeds remain dormant in the soil for many years until they are stimulated to germinate. The seedlings then put out a root-like growth underground until they find the roots of their specific parasitic host - in this case Knapweed. They then rob the Knapweed of water and nutrients and the strange flower spike emerges to form new seeds in due course.


You can see these plants all along the protected verge beside the lane leading to Wakerley. We counted 49 spikes today - how many can you see? Don't forget to count the Skylarks overhead as well, and there are also Yellowhammers and Whitethroats.


Fineshade has several of these Protected Wildflower Verges, one in the wood itself and others alongside the public highway. It has to be said that some are better protected than others!

Twayblade in Far Markhams Wood

Common Spotted Orchid 

Tuesday 23 June


This orchid  grows in all sorts of habitats and, according to Wikipedia, it is widespread across much of Europe, with the range extending eastward into Siberia, Mongolia and Xinjiang.


It may be common, but there is still a 'wow' factor associated with this plant when you come across one growing, often alone, in the wood. This particularly pretty specimen was photographed by John Isherwood in the middle of one of Fineshade's grassy rides. They also grow in the Ancient Woodland areas where, here in Fineshade, their colour tends to be a much lighter pink - almost white.

Pyramidal Orchid

Pyramidal Orchid 

Tuesday 30 June


This stunning little orchid shows up brilliantly in the grass in which it grows. Its name derives from the distinctive shape of the flower head - with a very flat bottom. The tiny florets are usually a deep cerise pink like this.


This pair are blooming along the hard track/bridleway that leads to King's Cliffe. Look at the junction about 200 metres beyond the locked gate on the right-hand side. It has bloomed there for several years on and off. There was no flower spike there in 2014, but, as if to make up for it, there are two there this year.


Bee Orchid. Photo: John Isherwood

Bee Orchid 

Tuesday 7 July


The Bee Orchid has evolved to attract male bees, both by its appearance and by its scent which mimics the pheronomes emitted by female solitary bees. 


The orchid seems to prefer poor soils and often occurs singly or in very loose colonies. They normally bloom from April to July so we were lucky to find this one at the end of its flowering period. It is blooming amongst the gravel of a lorry bay. You can find the spot by following the track towards the Assarts - the bay is on the left just before the crossing with the bridleway that runs from King's Cliffe to Duddington.




This is the sixth orchid to feature as Fineshade's flower of the week. 

Bee Orchid. Photo: John Isherwood

Tufted Vetch

Tuesday 14 July


The last few flowers of the week have been rather unusual and difficult to find. This week we have chosen one that is rather difficult to miss.


Tufted Vetch is blooming in profusion beside almost every track and trail in Fineshade Wood, scrambling over other vegetation using its tendrils for support.  The blueish-mauve flower spikes can consist of up to 30 tiny florets and they are particularly attractive for bees and butterflies.

Bee Orchid. Photo: John Isherwood

Wild Liquorice

Wednesday 22nd July


This is another flower that is very obvious in Fineshade at the moment and can be seen along the verges of many of the vehicle tracks. It is growing particularly profusely alongside the lorry bay at the bottom of the hill of the recommended walk (see below).


This flower is also sometimes called Milk Vetch and is not at all related to Liquorice - the South American plant. It is a member of the pea family and the creamy yellow flowers will later be replaced by pea-like pods containing up to 10 seeds.  So can anyone let us know why is it called Wild Liquorice? 


(Thanks to @SBridgeRantBoy who pointed out on Twitter that:  "Its specific name means 'sweet root' if that helps.")


Nettle-leaved Bell Flower

Wednesday 29th July


This plant can grow up to a metre high and it can be seen growing alongside the bridleway that leads from Top Lodge to King's Cliffe. Look in particular where the track runs close to the old railway line. Apparently a former name of this plant was "throatwort" but there seems no evidence whatsoever that it is any use in curing sore throats!


The plant and has blue-lilac bell-shaped flowers and its leaves look very similar to those of stinging nettles - but these don't sting. So Nettle-leaved Bell Flower does appear now to have a logical name - unlike last week's featured flower, Wild Liquorice. 

Bee Orchid. Photo: John Isherwood

Common Cudweed

Wednesday 5 August


Another misleadingly named plant which is certainly no longer common.  This flower now has national status "near threatened" and, we believe, it has not been recorded in Fineshade before.  Brian Laney picked it out in a recently thinned area of the wood during an informal guided walk on 1st August.  Brian also found three Brookweed plants there - another special plant for the county.


This is the same area of Far Markham Wood where Twayblade and Butterfly Orchids were found in the spring. As we said before, the care with which this area of Ancient Woodland was thinned under the watchful eye of then FC Forester, Fraser Bradbury, has had an amazing affect on the flora.


Common Cudweed is a short  grey-white woolly plant with erect stems. The flowerheads are yellow in dense rounded clusters.

Bee Orchid. Photo: John Isherwood

Woolly Thistle

Wednesday 12 August


Last week's flower needed an expert to find it in a secluded part of the wood, but this week's could hardly be more prominent especially in the whole area around Top Lodge. Although abundant here, it has a rather restricted range in the UK and doesn't occur much further north.


The huge globular flowerheads have a cobwebby appearance and the dark reddish-purple florets are very attractive to insects.  The ones near Top Lodge are particularly attracting various types of bumblebees - well worth looking to see if you can find or photograph different types. To tell them apart look for size difference and also look for the colour of their bums - no sorry, tails! There's a really good on-line ID guide here.


Sadly you won't see many Honeybees at Top Lodge anymore: the bee hives in the orchard were forced out by Alf and Stacey - whom we all know so well!

More about Woolly Thistle here



Wednesday 19 August


This bright yellow flower is a member of the daisy family and is very attractive to butterflies and bees.
The UK Butterflies website indicates that Fleabane is the primary nectar source fro the Small Copper butterfly and a secondary nectar source for no less than 17 other species.


Currently it grows profusely along the bridleway that leads from Top Lodge towards King's Cliffe, particularly the section in Westhay Wood, so if you are looking for butterfly photo opportunities, look out for Fleabane.  


Since it attracts the larger insects so successfully, it seems strange that this plant was traditionally used to repel fleas, as the name implies.



Tuesday 25 August


This large umbellifer is in bloom throughout Fineshade Wood at the moment. It can be a metre or more tall and has a reddish tinge to the stalks. 


Each part of the plant can be used - the roots for medicinal purposes, the stems can be candied and used in confectionary, and the seeds, which are aromatic and bitterish in taste, are used in the preparation of Vermouth, as well as in liqueurs such as Chartreuse. The preparation of Angelica is a small but important industry in the south of France particularly around Clermont-Ferrand. An entrepreneurial opportunity for Fineshade perhaps?


For lots more details about the uses of Angelica, see this website.

Photo: Roger Eads

Small Teasel

Thursday 3rd September


Small teasel grows to about 120cm high and is another one of the Fineshade specialities that is not seen in many parts of the country. It has oval, fairly long-stalked leaves with spherical white flower heads on branched, prickly stems. It is much smaller that the wild teasel - the flower heads are only about 2 cm across. It flowers very late in the year - you may be able to find some still blooming in the area around the ancient ash-tree at Top Lodge.


And so as summer ends we also come to the end of this regular weekly feature - there have been 20 flowers altogether starting with the Wood Anemone on 22nd April, through six types of orchid, the broomrape, abundant species such as cowslip, and real rarities such as cudweed. We know that many people enjoyed and appreciated this feature - 2015 has certainly been a good year for flowers in Fineshade!